Beer of the Week: Samuel Adams Cream Stout
Despite running Beer of the Week for almost two years now, I've never reviewed a Sam Adams beer. What a glaring oversight! The average drinker might assume Sam Adams is the same sort of mega-sized beer company as Budweiser or Miller because you can find it almost anywhere. But that's not the case. Sam Adams may be America's largest craft brewer, but it still only composes less than one percent of the total U.S. beer market. What it does with that market share, however, is really special.
Take a look at the beer isle in your local supermegamarket. You'll probably see rows and rows of Bud, Coors, and Miller. Sam Adams, however, may have only a few spaces reserved for 6 packs. One of those spaces is likely to be reserved for its most popular beer, Boston Lager. But in the other one or two spots, you'll find seasonal and specialty beers. Before craft beer started working its way into the supermarket (thanks to local distributors like Fresh Beer), these Sam Adams brews were the only beers in the case that offered something different (coincidentally, they were also among the few beers that weren't owned by the big beer conglomerates).
The fact that Sam Adams chooses to stock unconventional, interesting, seasonal beers in its limited shelf space instead of creating a virtual wall light beer speaks volumes about the company. It could easily increase its shelf space by stocking nothing but light beer in similar packaging. The pseudo beer products the big beer makers create are like this; these litany of "low calorie" options aren't really options so much as space-takers that are there to create a bigger brand impact while pushing other beers out of the case. Sam Adams, on the other hand, boldly places relatively unknown products like Noble Pils, Coastal Wheat, and Honey Porter. Rather than use their market share to bastardize its brews and expand, the company takes its limited influence and uses it to turn drinkers on to new and interesting beer styles. That's commendable.
Sam Adam's Cream Stout is one such beer. It's a classic example of a creamy dark ale made with milk sugars for a bit of sweetness and a silky mouth feel. A lot of casual beer drinkers are turned off by dark beers, but this stout is so smooth it could make anyone a fan. It's roasty and chocolaty with rich, mellow coffee flavors. The head is thick and foamy and the carbonation is not too flat, unlike many stouts. Take a big sip and you'll get a touch of sweet cream and a slight, lingering tanginess from the milk sugars. At 5 percent alcohol, it's a stout that just about anyone can enjoy too.
Finding Cream Stout is pretty easy -- most supermarkets stock it, though Sam Adams does rotate it out as seasonal brews become available (once again, limited shelf space). But pick it up and you'll realize why it's so neat that a large company like Sam Adams has stayed true to its roots.